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In court, Iowa man confronts Arizona election official he violently threatened

PHOENIX — Election officials crowded into the front row of a federal courtroom — a show of support for a local official who faced more than two years of attacks for his role in certifying Donald Trump’s defeat in Arizona in 2020.

Clint Hickman’s simple act – which was required by law and by his oath as chairman of the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors – resulted in hundreds of mostly anonymous threats. Hickman, a 58-year-old Republican who served as supervisor for a decade, says he is so tired of election denial and hostility toward rank-and-file staff that he has yet to decide whether he will run for office. re-election next year. .

On Monday, he found himself face to face with one of his stalkers.

Mark Rissi, 65 years old of Iowa, entered the courtroom using a cane. He slowly passed Hickman as he made his way to the defendants’ table. In April, he pleaded guilty to sending threatening communications to Hickman and former state attorney general Mark Brnovich, also a Republican.

He was in court to receive his punishment.

The remarkable scene that unfolded this week at the Phoenix federal courthouse reflects how America’s political and judicial institutions continue to grapple with the fallout from Trump’s false allegations of widespread voter fraud, which have plunged many his supporters into a frenzy and led to a wave of threats and attacks against local officials who were content to do their job of organizing the elections and then accepting the results.

Today, many of those who accepted the threat of violence or the violence itself by questioning the election results find themselves facing federal prosecutors – and having to explain their actions and often face the consequences.

Rissi entered Hickman’s life on September 27, 2021, nearly a year after the election and days after the conclusion of a partisan and unreliable review of the 2.1 million ballots cast by county voters. of Maricopa, confirming the victory of Joe Biden. The review captured international attention and raised hopes among staunch Trump supporters and misinformation proponents that the former president’s loss would be reversed.

Rissi called Hickman’s office and left a voicemail.

“Hello, Mr. Hickman, I’m glad you’re standing up for democracy and wanting to get your hands on the Bible and say the election was honest and fair,” Rissi said, according to court records and an audio of the recording obtained by the Washington Post. “I really appreciate that.”

Rissi spoke slowly and calmly, giving the first impression that his message was one of support. Then his voice changed rapidly.

“When we come to lynch your stupid liar–, you’ll remember you lied about the fucking Bible, you asshole,” Rissi said angrily. “You’re going to die, you asshole. We will hang you. We will hang you.

A few weeks later, on December 8, 2021, Rissi left a message for the Attorney General. Rissi said he and his family members were victims of a crime – “the theft of the 2020 election”, according to court records.

“Do your job, Brnovitch, or you’ll end up hanging out with those priests’ sons,” Rissi said. “We will see to it, torches and pitchforks. It’s your future. … Do your job.”

Rissi’s attorney, Anthony James Knowles, told the judge that at the time of the appeals “a lot of misinformation was being spread” by Rissi’s family and the media.

“People are starting to believe in this stuff,” Knowles said. “Again, that’s no vindication.”

During the sentencing hearing this week, Rissi stood up when it was his turn to speak — and he expressed remorse.

“First of all, I would like to apologize to the victims,” ​​he said.

While his mother was in hospice care during the coronavirus pandemic, Rissi said he spent hours listening to his brother “rant and rave” about alleged election irregularities in Arizona. In the months following his death, Rissi said he was taking medication for his own illnesses which he said had altered his behavior. His voice cracking, he recounted how his wife once told him that he had called someone the night before and was shouting into a phone. Rissi said he didn’t know what he had done until the FBI showed up on his doorstep.

“It was awful,” he recalled his reaction to hearing her voicemail with Hickman.

“I did that,” he said. “It’s my fault. I accept responsibility. And I’m deeply sorry.

Hickman later said in an interview that Rissi’s explanation was unexpected. Stepping up to a microphone, Hickman demanded that Rissi’s voicemails be read from the court filing.

Rissi looked down and I listened to his words. He shook his head and pursed his lips as a prosecutor read the word “lynching.”

Brnovitch did not attend the hearing and sent a statement to be read on his behalf.

The former attorney general amplified the lies about the election by devoting resources to investigating those lies. The prosecutor’s investigations helped legitimize the false claims of many Trump supporters, but they ended up souring against him, saying he hadn’t done enough to help provide enough evidence of wrongdoing during the ‘election. Brnovitch wrote in the statement that the harassment against his family continues.

He asked the judge to impose a sentence that would discourage others from threatening election workers and public officials.

Then it was Hickman’s turn to address the judge. The egg farmer said it was his first time in a courtroom. He also said he was grateful for the support of “three gentlemen who received death threats against them”. All three were present at the hearing.

Behind him sat Tom Liddy, a fellow Republican and assistant county attorney who helps represent the county in election cases. Son of G. Gordon Liddy, the attorney who engineered the botched heist that led to the Watergate scandal and the resignation of President Richard M. Nixon, Tom Liddy had just returned from a road trip to Texas, where he had read his own victim impact statement. in legal proceedings involving another man who threatened him and his family after the Republican defeat in the 2022 election.

There was county clerk Stephen Richer, another Republican who was also targeted by the man from Texas and who wrote an impact statement for this proceeding. Next to him sat Bill Gates, a Republican county supervisor and victim of similar threats and harassment who decided not to run for office next year.

Also in the courtroom was Andy Kunasek, a former Republican. supervisor who told the Post that the last time he saw a sentencing was for the man who shot dead a Democratic county supervisor in 1997 for supporting a tax funding a new ballpark.

“This case is about bullets that are words,” Hickman said. “My family lived almost a nightmare. »

He recalled life-altering events since the 2020 election. In the days that followed, he groomed his teenage sons to help law enforcement in case they were swarmed by the 100-plus Trump supporters protesting outside their home in a suburb west of Phoenix.

“We would like this to stop,” Hickman said of the hostility toward elected officials and public servants. “I’m tired. That’s basically where a lot of us end up in the public service. He said his family helped him through three difficult years and he hoped Rissi would “come back to his family as soon as possible”.

He asked the judge to show “grace, humility, charity” and compassion to Rissi.

Instead, U.S. District Judge Dominic Lanza, Trump’s nominee, gave Rissi a harsh sentence.

Lanza handed down a 30-month sentence, six months longer than the Justice Department was seeking, prompting audible gasps in the courtroom.

The judge said he hoped the sanction would deter those dissatisfied with future election results, demonstrating that there is an “unambiguous and serious line” that cannot be crossed when contacting public officials. He echoed concerns expressed by a prosecutor about an alarming exodus of government election workers into a hostile and threatening environment. He said “general deterrence” was “extremely important”.

“It goes to the heart of how our democracy works,” Lanza said.

The judge was sympathetic to Rissi but noted that Iowan had made two threatening calls weeks apart. He gave Rissi until Jan. 8 to report to federal authorities, allowing him to spend the holidays with loved ones, some of whom sat behind him throughout the proceedings.

“I believe,” said the judge, “I act with compassion.”


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